Frowning Upside Down

I am still bothered by the incident I posted about yesterday.

One of the biggest reasons I avoid confrontation is because it haunts me for so long. There’s that phrase thin skinned. I am the epitome of thin skinned but not in the way it’s usually meant. I can take criticism and insults and have been through a surprising amount of shit in my life and I can handle it all.

The reason I don’t handle confrontation and the backdraft of confrontation is because I’m too nice. Not on purpose. I’m just built this way.

I’m quick to get over my anger. I’m quick to forgive others. I can’t hold grudges. (except for extreme and rare circumstances) .

So what I’m left with after a confrontation like I had the other day is forgiveness and understanding for the other person. And shame, frustration, embarrassment and derision for myself.

I could have done better. I could have avoided the argument. I didn’t have to escalate or react and having done so was childish and immature. The other persons behavior is justifiable based on any number of excuses that my empathetic nature can come up with. My behavior, because I have a front row view and absolute knowledge of my thoughts and actions, is inexcusable.

I can forgive everyone but myself.

Actually, that’s not quite true anymore. It used to be 100% true.

I used to have a list of every shameful, embarrassing, horrible thing that I’ve ever done and on particularly bad days or sleepless nights, this list, like the worlds worst slideshow would run through my mind. It would fuel the self hate I needed when all of a sudden my bipolar brain would decide I needed a day of self flagellation.

A few years ago, I discovered a trick that helped me shorten that list.

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it, but I know I haven’t written the blog dedicated to the subject that I have lined up and outlined in my brain.

My ex-husband was abusive. I didn’t really know it in my brain at the time because I, like many abuse victims, excused his behavior. And he never hit me. With his hand.

He didn’t allow me to have friends. Or talk to my family. He took all the money I made and spent it on frivolous things so I had no money of my own. He told me I was crazy. He cheated on me regularly. He lied nearly every time he opened his mouth. He controlled everything I did. He threw things at me. He pushed me. He broke my things. He yelled at me.

But because he never hit me, I didn’t think it constituted abuse. So I accepted it as my choice. I don’t think I ever thought I deserved it, but I just acknowledged it as the price I paid to stay with this man who I thought I loved but was more likely just unhealthily obsessed with.

It was the cheating in the end that made me finally leave him.

One night at the end of December, I looked at our phone bill, something that had been available to me our entire relationship, and called a few of the numbers I didn’t recognize and weren’t labeled. I called 6 numbers. They were all girls. I talked to 3, the rest went to voicemails. 2 refused to tell me anything, but one I got to talk a bit before she decided to plead the 5th. She’d been dating my husband for a year. Just 2 months less time than we’d been married and the exact amount of time it’d been since we were stationed and moved to Utah. She asked who I was and I told her I was his wife. She said she didn’t know.

After I left (the in between that conversation and me actually leaving is the first scene in the screenplay I’m writing, it’s pretty intense) I tried to move on with my life. But I regularly had nightmares about him and when I went anywhere that I could possibly run into him, I was terrified.

It will be 10 years this December since I left him. The last time I had a nightmare about him was probably 4 years ago.

It took a lot of therapy to get that to happen. It took the births of my two children bringing a lot of joy into my life for that to happen. It took forgiving him and hoping that he’d changed his ways and was happy in his life now, for that to happen.

It took a lot of work on my part to forgive myself for what I allowed to happen to me. And to focus on the steps I took to end it, feeling proud of myself for getting out instead of shame for having stayed in.

That is the trick. Turning the frown upside down, you might say.

It is taking an experience, a memory, and rubbing that label off in it’s entirety. Rubbing until the sticky adhesive pulls completely off and you’re left with a clean and smooth surface. And then relabeling that damn memory with something more deserving. Something encouraging. Something that you can use to lift yourself up instead of tearing yourself down.

For an instance, in September of that year, he took me home to meet his parents. We flew to D.C. and drove to this tiny farming town called Bedford Pennsylvania. While there he used a dating website on their computer to look for future dates. When I confronted him about it, he denied, lied and gaslighted me, like he always did when he was close to being caught. I accepted his lies and put back my blinders.

For years this vacation shamed and confused me. Why would he take me home to meet his family when he had been actively cheating on me with multiple women? Why would he dig himself deeper and more comfortably into a relationship with me that was based on lies, adultery and abuse?

So for years, this incident haunted me. But there came a time when I decided to take an active role in unshaming myself. To make my inner world less of a burden on myself.

So lying in bed at night, when everything was dark and quiet and peaceful, and my heart beat softly in my chest, and my body was preparing itself for sleep, I would relabel my memories.

Instead of the shameful glimpses of denial, the naïve and willful acceptance of his lies, and the stubborn devotion to our life together, I changed my focus.

I focused on visiting a cow farm and seeing how a functioning dairy farm works. (BTW, up close cows are terrifying and remind me of some fat boney multicolored alien species that does not belong on this earth).

I focused on sitting with his kind grandmother and watching her stories with her. I focused on staying in a Pennsylvania farm house, in beautiful green farm country.

Then I remembered laughing at their ridiculous and confusing liquor rules. And going to a bar and him asking them to play my favorite song.

I remembered our day trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey, another place I could cross off my list of places I’ve never been. I remember standing on the beach for the first time in 17 years.

I remember the good things, the positive feelings and while I’m remembering these things, I tell myself, “I forgive myself. I cannot change these things and I accept they are the choices I made. I respect myself and those choices. I will make better choices in the future.”

The next time I remember the trip, the shame is softer, the regret less, and the pain more remote. It takes time to rewrite the emotions of your history. Years and years. A lot of time and effort.

But that list of pure shameful and bitter memories that haunt me is much shorter now a days. It is a little easier to forgive myself and a little faster now too.

I have one more memory to add to the pile and it will take some time to forgive myself for it.

But I am accepting the fact that I do get mad. That I have the right to get mad. And when I get mad, I say things. I do things. I am human. And while less experienced in confrontation than some, I learn from every incident and I will use it to help govern my behavior in the future.

So while I have work to do on myself (always have, always will), it doesn’t change the fact that he is still a cunt.

And I feel okay about calling him that.





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